The majority of landlords (seven in ten) still do not understand their responsibilities under the new Right to Rent scheme, which was introduced on Monday, 1st February.
The law requires landlords or their letting agents to conduct immigration status checks on prospective tenants within 28 days of the tenancy starting.
Experts believe that the scheme could cause problems for tenants, as landlords may resort to discriminatory behaviour if they are unsure about documentation.
Landlords who rent out property in England must now conduct checks to ensure potential tenants have the right to rent in the UK.
The scheme was originally piloted in the West Midlands.
Landlords that do not carry out the checks and are found to be letting a home to someone that is not allowed to live in the UK can be fined up to £1,000 for the first offence and £3,000 for each offence afterward.
Landlords Still Don’t Understand Right to Rent Responsibilities
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) says that its members face a difficult choice; they could “take a restrictive view with prospective tenants, potentially causing difficulties for the 12m UK citizens without a passport”, or “target certain individuals to conduct the checks, opening themselves up to accusations of racism”1.
Despite the national roll out of the scheme being announced back in October, the RLA states that over 90% of 1,500 landlords it surveyed had not received any information from the Government about their new legal responsibility, and 72% did not understand their duty.
Landlords can accept a number of documents as proof that a tenant has the right to live in the UK, such as a passport, but the RLA reports that 44% had suggested they would only accept documents they are familiar with. This could cause problems for house hunters without passports.
The Policy Director at the RLA, David Smith, comments: “The Government argues that its Right to Rent plans form part of a package to make the UK a more hostile environment for illegal immigrants. The evidence shows that it is creating a more hostile environment for good landlords and legitimate tenants. Landlords are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”1
Under the scheme, landlords must check identification documents with their prospective tenants present, and ensure that the documents are originals and belong to the tenants. They must make a copy of the document and keep it for the duration of the tenancy and one year afterwards.
If a tenant’s permission to stay in the UK is limited, landlords can be fined if they do not conduct further checks before the expiry date or 12 months after the first check.
The Head of Compliance at Chestertons estate agent, Nicola Thivessen, insists that for landlords and agents that already keep good records, the checks “shouldn’t add a huge burden to the process of securing a tenancy”.
However, she says landlords could face problems if they do not fully understand the rules.
She explains: “As some landlords are likely to feel that the new legislation is a bureaucratic minefield, they may think they can play safe by only renting to British people. This is absolutely not the case, as this is tantamount to discrimination.
“As a professional agency, we are legally obliged to dis-instruct landlords for discriminatory or racist behaviour, but in reality, those who are rejected or overlooked for tenancies by landlords using less scrupulous agents, or advertising directly through classified ads for instance, may have a hard time proving they have been discriminated against.”
Tenants may also suffer if they cannot provide the right paperwork.
“Some of the most vulnerable people in the private rented sector may be forced to turn back to the black economy to find a place to live,” Thivessen believes. “Someone who is homeless, for instance, may not hold a passport or visa, and obtaining one may be difficult, not to say costly, for someone living on the streets or in temporary accommodation, so this policy could well bar many such people from ever getting back into secure, rented accommodation.”1
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